Supremely Surprising

As all-powerful as the U.S. Supreme Court has been in shaping our society, it is usually ignored by we the people whose actions are controlled by its interpretations of the rules. In large part, that's due to media indifference to any story that can't be told in news snippets.

Only when it deals with abortion or when it helps steal a presidential election do we pay attention. Or when someone leaves the court.

That's when the various interest groups can end their years-long hibernations and raise big bucks for the fight over a replacement.

Thanks to outgoing Justice David Souter, the games over who's incoming can begin, starting with the candidates, and the uninformed speculation about them.

We've seen the latest menu of those we've guessed are on President Obama's shortlist. But what do we really know?

Well, he says he wants someone with "empathy.” That would seem to be a no-brainer, considering how so many of the current guys on the bench espouse the absurd "strict constructionist" approach to the Constitution.

That's really a smokescreen to obscure a fight against progress and justice. It's double-talk that reinforces Aristotle's view of the law as "Mind without reason.” So ignore the critics. "Empathy" is cool.

So are females. Even though Souter is a guy, one thing we know is that the president damn well better pick one to replace him, or there will be hell to pay from an awful lot of angry women in this country, not the least of whom would be Michelle Obama.

Deservedly so. It's ridiculous to suggest that the selection should ignore chromosomes and focus only on qualification. Implicit in that argument is the belief that only men possess the proper credentials.

There is certainly no longer a shortage of accomplished women in law, as well as minorities. Law firms, in fact, now go out of their way to seek out what the human-resources people call "twofers.” Nevertheless, the Supremes are still way behind. We need more females and people of color wearing those robes.

It's OK to include a couple of token males in the list of prospects, but let's face it: They're only window-dressing.

Indeed, most of the speculation does involve the female side of the gender gap. Having said that, the names we see are still somewhat predictable. We don't need to be limited to such shortlists.

We shouldn't overlook the chance of a surprise. Presidents love to come up with someone who is not part of the consensus. Accordingly, let's check out some of the many others who might be worth considering ... some, in fact, who go beyond "surprising" to "startling."

That could certainly include Oprah Winfrey. Instead of "You gotta be kidding,” think "Why not?” Who better personifies "empathy”? She IS empathy. Oh yeah, and she's a minority who obliterated the color line long before Barack Obama. It doesn't hurt that she so prominently supported him early on. In other words, she pushes all the buttons.

True, she's not a lawyer. But you don't absolutely have to be. All the Constitution requires is “good Behaviour.” There are many who believe that not being an attorney would be an advantage when it comes to good behavior.

If you're still suffering, though, from that legal professional hangup, here's another name that is absent from the predictions. She is an attorney, an Ivy Leaguer, minority, very popular and close to Mr. President.

By now you've probably figured out I mean the aforementioned Michelle Obama. While there are clearly a few naysayers who might raise some "separation-of-powers" issues, it's not the first time the first lady has gone on to other high office.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton. After her "Wife-of" gig, she's gone on to be a senator, secretary of State and might have been president herself if she and her advisers hadn't blown it so badly. While there's no way to ever confuse her as a person of color, let's not forget she's married to the man who used to be called "The First Black President.” At least until his comments in the last election.

Hillary's an attorney, although most of her professional work came as a small-town lawyer. For those who say she wouldn't want to be on the Supreme Court because she might want to make another stab at president, it should be pointed out she could always resign as a justice.

All three of these women have unique stories, which would definitely mean that the confirmation hearings would be a lot more entertaining than the bombastic same-old-same-olds we've come to expect.

Before you dismiss these names as too far out there, let's not forget that the new member of SCOTUS will be replacing someone whose selection by President Bush the First inspired a nearly universal response: "Who the hell is David Souter?” At least we've heard of these three.

Maybe they could do it part-time. Being an associate justice isn't all that heavy a load. Most of the hard work is done by the paid interns they call "clerks.”

So Oprah could continue the TV show, Michelle could still spend time with Bo and the vegetable garden, and Hillary — maybe she could stay on as secretary of State. She's appointed a bunch of special envoys. They can do the heavy lifting of the world's hotspots while she does the court thing.

As usual, skeptics will belittle each of these possibilities, but all three have one huge advantage. The media would finally pay attention and trivialize the Supreme Court. Maybe next, we could persuade the justices to Twitter their rulings. Imagine the possibilities!

By now, we know that the president has been calling around seeking suggestions on his choice. We don't know whether that's for real or whether he's already made up his mind and is simply being polite. I can tell you that he hasn't called me. Yet.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.